Monday Rant: It’s Snowing – Turn Your Lights On!

I was very nearly involved in a crash recently.

I’m a highly defensive driver, especially when my daughter is in the car with me. She and I spend a lot of time driving together, so I work very hard to ensure her transportation experiences are positive.

I was therefore paying pretty serious attention when it was snowing intensely and we were out on the roads anyway because there was somewhere we absolutely needed to be. We didn’t need go far from home – maybe three blocks. We live in Canada, so life doesn’t stop when the snow flies, right?

I needed to turn left at a stop sign onto a major street. I looked both ways, up close and far down the road, twice, to make sure the way was clear. It was, in both directions – or so I thought. I advanced to make the turn.

Then, out of the corner of my right eye, I detected some movement. I slammed on the brakes, thanking my lucky stars that there was no oncoming traffic in the southbound lane that I was suddenly blocking, and watched incredulously as a car and its oblivious driver slid past northbound right past my front bumper.

I had looked, actively, and I still didn’t see her coming. Why?

Because in the low-visibility conditions of a blizzard, she was driving without her lights on.

How is this still a thing?!

Of all the winter weather transgressions going, this might be the one of the worst, but it’s the one that gets the least attention. It doesn’t have nearly as much viral potential for laughing at others’ self-inflicted misfortune as clearing snow from a windshield at highway speed or skating through intersections because winter tires are expensive. (Repeat after me: yes, you do need winter tires; and yes, even if you live in the city.)

But this simple inability to flip a switch when you get into a car is distressingly common, and it’s dangerous. Not only can these drivers not be seen as easily by other road users – despite the fact that daytime running lights have been required in Canada since 1989, which helped moderately, reducing two-vehicle crashes by somewhere between 5 and 15 percent – but imagine being a pedestrian, bundled up and still freezing, glancing briefly through hats and scarves before stepping out onto the road. You’d be a sitting duck.

It’s long been argued that the default setting for every car should be all lights on all the time, and this is the solution that makes the most sense. For whatever reason, this change has never come off. Daytime running lights will begin being tied in with turning taillights on from 2020 onward, but that’s not enough. Conditions can change dramatically from the time between hitting the ignition and reaching your final destination, and if you need to concentrate on driving hard enough that you forget to worry about flipping your lights on so that others can see you coming then you’re doing it wrong. It’s better to be more visible when you don’t need to be, than to be nearly invisible when you do.

Add to that the fact that so many people are driving distracted these days – 25 percent of incidents on Canadian roads are caused by at least one driver not paying attention to the task of driving, and that includes when road conditions are ideal – that it just doesn’t make sense to compound the problem.

So please, do what you need to do to remember to turn on those lights: put a sticker somewhere conspicuous on your dashboard, tie a ribbon to your steering wheel, whatever it takes to turn flipping that switch into a habit, ideally every single time you get into the car.

You could find yourself saving a lot of money on repairs – or even a life.